Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that developers Housemarque are getting to show off their latest project just under a month after Vanquish got reinserted into the membrane of gaming enthusiasts Worldwide. Not that it takes a PC re-release of a cult classic to invigorate that high-speed, button-twitchy, bullet-dodging style of play that has seen quite the healthy life-span and still lives on to this very day. Resogun certainly lived/died on the concept of arcade-style, bullet-hell shmup’s but with that added sense of strategic involvement that stretches past mere a-to-b allotting of stages.
Matterfall might not be shifting gears so wildly on the visual/aesthetic front — as is demonstrated quite lavishly with the endless flurry of particle effects and exploding colors, but Housemarque’s latest offering certainly feels a bit more grounded and deliberately contained than its predecessor. Odd a statement that may sound given the game’s near-constant emphasis on movement, racking up high scores and of course surviving wave after wave of destructible enemies — be they static-post in these now 2.5D linear-flowing levels, or in fact spawning in that familiar shmup-esque wave-upon-wave delivery. Its action may be livelier, but like Shadow Complex before it, the gameplay is where the real beating heart stays for the most part.
That’s not simply down to the static and quite sterile nature of its environments. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to claim this is Mighty No. 9 levels of bland — you’ll be pleased to know the ample scattering of particles and the way enemies dissolve into a spray of grainy red’s and blue’s, means there’s not a pizza-explosion in sight — the insistent but far-short-of-annoying use of visual effects do mean the player at least feels like their work is having some form of impact. Even if the impact is sending ample amount of autonomous, corrupted bots exploding in many a flurry of neon-like shades — the fairly flat popping-up of combo scores and bonuses doing little to keep the vibe going.
Sure the premise is far from original and the fairly safe setting that is the game’s sprawling sci-fi citadels and indoor facilities aren’t going to light the concept of AI deciding to go a little haywire, on fire. Beating one’s score, conquering the increased difficulty mode — as well as the unlockable uber-hard mode, for a lack of a better term, that means one hit does indeed mean death — and earning that top spot among the online leaderboards will merit some faction of replayability sure. But at the end of the day, it’ll primarily lie with the variety of challenge and delivery on-show. Of the short-term set-pieces that will ultimately determine a player’s long-time investment in such a game.
It might be considered fortunate that this is but one of Housemarque’s upcoming titles — the other being the similarly-futuristic if bit more hectically-sprawling, neon-action that Nex Machina could muster in its more over-head pseudo-3D presentation. Not that fans of either fast combat or arcade-style shooters could avoid this. Quite the opposite; Matterfall may not have the liberty or indeed the stature of some of this year’s most prominent (and perhaps memorable) mentions, but you can’t fault Housemarque for sticking to their guns. Guns, though figurative, that pack as much a visual show as they do a satisfying, score-beating interest. But the question is: will it be enough? Matterfall will be available August 15 on PS4.